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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Starting Your Publicity Campaign

You've received your contract. Your book is scheduled for release. You've put together a press kit. Now what?

Before we launch into that, let's establish a few good habits to form.

1.) Build your database. I'm reading Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life. In her book, she suggests capturing every name and address you come across. When your book releases, you need people to know. This is something both published and non-published authors can do.

2.) Track reviewers. If your book and writing would appeal to Brett Lott's fans, then find out who reviews his books. Follow their reviews and see if they would be a great fit for your book. Write them. Tell them how much you enjoyed 'such-n-such' review and that you hope to send them your book soon. (Tell your publicist. You don't want two different reviewers at the same paper expecting to be the one reviewing your book.)

3.) Keep good notes on your publicity hits. One of my authors had a signing recently and sent me an ideal e-mail. He was able to provide the names and numbers of media that either reviewed his book or gave him coverage last year.

4.) Thank those who gave you coverage. When an author writes and asks me to pass along his or her thanks, there has never been a time when I haven't received a glowing e-mail in reply stating how much that made their day.

This is a business of networking, and you the author are part of that. A friend you make in the media might able to give you a hot tip, or someone just staring out might later be in a position to give you amazing coverage. Imagine if your hometown book reviewer suddenly started to have his or her reviews accepted in the New York Times. Wouldn't you be glad you sent them a thank you note and captured their information?

Joyce Livingston ~ Author Interview

In addition to being a wife, mother of six, and grandmother to oodles, Joyce Livingston has been a KANSAS television broadcaster for 18 years, a speaker/teacher of quilting and sewing, and a writer. As host and producer of KWCH TV's THE JOYCE LIVINGSTON SHOW and WOMAN'S WORLD, she's danced with Lawrence Welk, ice-skated with a Chimpanzee, had bottles broken over her head by stuntmen, and interviewed hundreds of celebrities and controversial figures.

Joyce recently became a widow, and praises God for her writing to help her get through her terrible loss. Three of her books have been named Contemporary Book of the Year in the Heartsong Readers Poll, and she was voted Favorite Author of the Year 3 times. In addition, her Heartsong book, One Last Christmas, won the coveted 2005 Contemporary Book of the Year award given by The American Christian Fiction Writers organization. Her first venture into a larger women's fiction book is THE WIDOWS' CLUB, also published by Barbour Publishing, soon to be followed up with a second book, INVASION OF THE WIDOWS' CLUB. She loves to hear from her friends and readers and invites you to visit her on the Internet at: or check out her blog and leave a comment at:

What new book or project would you like to tell us about?

Of course, THE WIDOWS’ CLUB, which is in stores now and available on the internet as well, is my most current release so it is near and dear to my heart. I have several Heartsongs and Anthologies coming out yet this year but the book I’m working on now – is the one my mind is wrapped up in. It is the 2nd book in the Widow’s Club series, its title is INVASION OF THE WIDOW’S CLUB, and picks up right where the first book leaves off, although they are both stand alone novels.

I’ve had such fun writing these books. Though widowhood is not something we ever want to face, it is a distinct possibility it will happen in a woman’s life. It is sad for sure, but the facing and adjusting to widowhood has its really funny side too. Especially if you take a mix of widows of all ages and combine them into The Widows’ Club. I think women of all ages will like these books, whether they are a widow or not, especially Barbie Baxter who throws my heroine Valentine Denay’s life into utter chaos with her quirky, self-centered ways. We all have, or have had, a Barbie in our lives at one time or another.

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I wrote my first romance novel in 1986 and did everything wrong. Sent it off to Harlequin and got a 2 page rejection from the Senior Editor (who is still there) telling me what I should do to fix it. Dumb me, I didn’t realize that was a wonderful thing, and I should have done what she asked and, instead, put it in the closet and left it there. I never tried writing a novel again until about 1997, after I’d gotten quite a few publishing credits by writing and selling magazine articles. With that new found confidence, I decided to try it again.

I wrote 2 complete 70K romance novels, submitted them to LI and got 2 very nice rejections! Through the Lord’s intervention, I met Tracie Peterson at an RWA chapter meeting, she told me she was the acquiring editor and would like to see them. Two days later, she said if I cut the story down to 50K, she was ready to buy it! AMAZING! She bought it, and a few months later, bought the 2nd one. That was about 28 or 30 books ago! I later also sold a book to Love Inspired. What went through my mind? Shock! Panic! Thankfulness! Feelings of inadequacy! But most of all – the thrill of selling!

Do you still have self-doubts about your writing?

Yes, and always will have. Over my computer, I have a saying posted: God doesn’t always call those who are qualified. Sometimes, He calls us and then qualifies us. That’s me! I’m still in awe that someone would buy my books, though I do feel the Lord gives me the ideas and inspirations for each one.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

NO! I love it too much!

What mistakes did you make while seeking an editor or agent?

I think I did alright with the editor seeking, but I never sought an agent. I never felt like I was ready for one, or one was ready for me! My agent, Carolyn Grayson of the Ashley Grayson Agency, and her husband sought me at the airport in New Orleans after an RWA conference. They approached me and said they’d like to represent me. It took me a full year to decide to take them up on their offer. However, I inserted in my contract that they NOT act as my agent in anything I did for Barbour, since I didn’t really need them there, but she did represent me with the book I sold to Love Inspired. She is still my agent but, so far, I haven’t used her services again. Though I may in the future.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

That one is easy. I tell it to every aspiring author. Find a publisher that publishes what you want to write and then WRITE to their guidelines, submitting the most perfect proposal/synopsis you’re capable of doing.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Several authors, who were already published with secular publishers, told me it was the kiss of death to have my first books published by a Christian Publisher, that it would brand me and I’d never get published by the others. I laughed then and I’m still laughing. I’ve had around 30 books (maybe more, have lost track) contracted and more to come….and all of those who gave me that advice are no longer being published – by any publisher. I’d rather write for the Lord! Where He puts me!

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Yes. Those who have not been published but feel the need to dole out advice to others who are not yet published, as if they are authorities on the subject. I see some terrible advice given on some of the email loops that can do nothing but harm a would-be writer. A little knowledge can be dangerous. And I also get upset with those who post their little tidbits, forgetting that, sometimes, editors are on those loops. They shoot themselves down without realizing it because they haven’t thought things through.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

Another easy question! If I’d been smart enough to realize that original Senior Editor wanted me to do revisions on that first book, and I’d done them and sent it back in…I may have been published years ago. Or – maybe not! But I’ll never know. I did remind her about that incident several years ago at a conference. She said – if she liked it well enough to sent me 2 pages on how to correct it – she would like to see it again. The updated and modernized version of course. I still have it. Someday I may do just that.

Was there ever a difficult set back that you went through in your writing career?

Not really a set back in my career. Praise the Lord I’ve turned out as many books as I could find the time to write, but I did suffer a slight setback in my writing time and interest when I lost my husband 20 months ago. He was my #1 fan and encourager. I miss him terribly, but at least I’ve gotten pretty much back on track with my writing.

What are a few of your favorite books?

Oh, my! Where do I start? I love a book, Logan’s Child, Lenore Worth wrote a number of years ago. I love all the books Carla Cassidy has written, and so many of my fellow author’s books, I hesitate to list them for fear I’ll leave someone out. When I was a kid, I read all the fairy tale books I could get my hands on. Maybe that’s what sparked some of my creativity.

What work have you done that you’re especially proud of and why?

I self-published 5 non-fiction books and marketed them myself, which I’m proud to say, but as a TV broadcaster, I had a built-in audience of buyers. Of my fiction books, I would have to say 2 of my Heartsong books: ONE LAST CHRISTMAS, which won the coveted American Christian Fiction Writer’s Contemporary Book of the Year in 2005, and DOWN FROM THE CROSS, which was named Contemporary Book of 2005 by the Heartsong Readers. Also, I’m very proud of the fact that Barbour choose DOWN FROM THE CROSS as their kick-off book for their new audiobook line. Those books were definitely inspired of the Lord.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has spoken to you lately in regards to your writing?

I choose a scripture verse for each book I write, so that scripture is the one that speaks to me at that particular time. As to a quote? Yes, I keep this posted above my computer too, and it is appropriate for every romance novel I write. Love thrives in the face of all life’s hazard, except one. Neglect. So, so true!

Can you give us a look into a typical day for you?

Up about 7. I’m reading my Through the Bible In a Year Bible through again, but I like to read it in about 6-8 months instead of 12, so I read at least 2-4 days of reading each morning before I do anything else. Eat a bowl of oatmeal, give my condo a quick going over, then check email and blog. After that – it’s all writing! I spend from 8 to as many as 12 hours in front of the computer a day, or sitting up in bed reading and revising. Other than dropping things and spending time with my big family when they drop by (which is often), writing and going to church and church activities is pretty much my life now that my husband is gone.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

No. Just write until I feel it’s time to quit.

Are you an SOTP (seat of the pants) writer or a plotter?

Definitely a plotter. I actually love to write a long synopsis (chapter by chapter ) before I start. I don’t stay exactly with it, and I branch out in all directions, sometimes bringing in totally new, unexpected characters, but that synopsis becomes my road map and really helps me to keep focused. I believe in giving my editors the story they bought.

What author do you especially admire and why?

So many, but I guess it would be Karen Kingsbury. She writes real…that’s what I want to do.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

Um, I can’t even think of a downside here, although a couple of revisions I’d had to do lately have made me a bit woozy. I love the entire writing process.

How much marketing do you do? What's your favorite part of marketing?

My background in Television should make me a marketer and promoter of my work, but I’m afraid I have been so caught up with the heavy writing schedule I’ve had since I sold that first book, I have done very little. I want to do more, and plan to with each book, but then there is another deadline staring me in the face. I always set my personal deadline at least a month ahead of what my editor sets for me, so I always feel that pressure to get it done – get it done – get it done! I am doing some radio interviews for The Widows’ Club series and love that. I really plan to do more of those because I don’t have to leave home to do them! VBG!

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Being a published author is great. Where else can you work at home in your jammies at your own schedule, doing something you love, and get paid for it? However, it is hard work. Unless you can discipline yourself to sit down in that chair and write, when you’d rather be doing something else, you’d do well to look elsewhere for a profession.

We work alone – doing what only we can do – with no, or very little, help from others. I could live on what I make now, but I’d hate to have to do it. As an author, we never know when our work may no longer be sought, or an editor change brings havoc into your life, publishers are bought out by someone else who doesn’t like your work, etc. No job is secure, but like I said, I’d hate to depend on it. Don’t quit your day job until you have money in the bank to fall back on!

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Author Interview ~ Nancy Moser

Nancy Moser is the best-selling author of thirteen novels including Crossroads, the Christy-award winning Time Lottery, The Seat Beside Me, and the Sister Circle series coauthored with Campus Crusade co-founder, Vonette Bright. Nancy has been married 31 years—to the same man. She and her husband have three twenty-something children and live in the Midwest. She loves history, has traveled extensively in Europe, and has performed in various theaters, symphonies, and choirs. She needlepoints voraciously, kills all her houseplants, and can wire an electrical fixture without getting shocked. She is a fan of anything antique—humans included. Check out:

What new book or project are you working on?

Just out is “Crossroads”, which is about a matriarch who buys up the dying small town where she lives and gives it away in a contest. It becomes populated by people who want a fresh start—who are at a crossroads in their lives.

In the fall of 2006 I have two more books coming out, "The Good Nearby." It's about people searching for meaning, searching for “the good nearby”, and about a woman who has the number 96 appear in her life over and over (what does it mean?).

Also coming out in the fall is probably the book of my life, "Mozart's Sister". It's my first historical, and is virtually a memoir of Mozart's sister, Nannerl (did you know he even had a sister?) She had just as much talent as he did, but because she was a woman, she didn't have the opportunities. Her story is quite fascinating and will hopefully spur readers to use their own gifts to their fullest potential.

Right now I’m working on a book called “Solemnly Swear” which is about the people on a jury for a murder trial. Information about my books can be found at

I loved The Sister Circle series. Who conceived the idea? How did you team up with Vonette Bright?

The idea stemmed from need. Since we wanted to reach women, we needed a vehicle where women characters of many ages and backgrounds could come together. I have always loved Victorian homes… Plus, my mother-in-law lost her husband in 1996, and was left with a ridiculously small life insurance policy, so that sad fact was the impetus for the widow Evelyn.

As far as coming together, Dr. Bill Bright (Vonette’s husband) had coauthored some Christian fiction with Ted Dekker. He saw the power of Christian fiction to change lives. Where a friend or loved one might not read a book that’s entitled, “How to Know God!” you can hand them a Christian novel and say, “Hey, read this, it’s a great story” and they’ll get some of the gospel message through the back door. Jesus recognized the power of fiction—He used parables all the time.

It all started back in Feb 2001 when I got a call from one of Vonette’s representatives asking me if I would be interested in coauthoring a novel with her. We met. We hit it off. And four books came out of it.

Out of that initial Sister-idea have come many spin-off opportunities for women. Now, Brenda Josee (who has thirty years in Christian publishing) and I put on an all-day Said So Sisters Seminar that celebrates sisterhood and helps the attendees discover their God-given gifts.

We also have Sister Circles formed in churches all around the country. And we have just released a Sister Stuff Notebook that gives churches some fun but scriptural studies for women to do in their Sister Circles. The information for all this will soon be found on, or by emailing Nancy at

How did you divide up the work? The style is seamless throughout the book. Did you each take characters to write? If so, will you reveal who wrote which ones?

We brainstormed the books, then I wrote them, and Mrs. Bright edited with me. She also provided a lot of much needed spiritual wisdom regarding the issues of being unequally yoked, forgiveness, etc.

Do you enjoy the co-authoring experience more than writing by yourself?

Coauthoring is a completely different experience. The biggest perk was that the opportunity led me to sisterhood with Vonette and with Brenda Josee (who was involved in the process, and who is now my speaking partner). But writing-wise, I’m pleased to be writing on my own again.

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

[Ane: Nancy has an amazing testimony of her writing journey. To read the full story, please take time to visit her website at ]

Do you still have self-doubts about your writing?

In regard to whether I should keep doing it? No. I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Yet when I’m in the midst of getting a book started and I don’t know the characters yet, and the words aren’t flowing, and I have no idea how I can ever keep the plotline going for 95,000 words . . . I doubt. I wonder why I chose this profession at all. As with any profession, there are highs and lows, good times and bad. And struggles along the way. But I wouldn’t ever want to do anything else.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

No. I was always very persistent. When I received a rejection (and I have received 100’s for articles, stories, and novels) I would give myself ten minutes to cry, pout, and feel sorry for myself. Then I’d go over the submission, make it better, and send it out yet again. Fate finds persistence irresistible.

What mistakes did you make while seeking an editor or agent?

First off, you don’t seek an editor. One is assigned to you once you get a contract with a publishing house. And I had nine books published without an agent. But note: having an agent is getting more and more necessary. A lot of publishing houses will not look at unagented work. The important thing about any professional relationship is having respect for each other, being willing to listen, being heard, being trustworthy and dependable, and liking the other person. Right now I am blessed with great editors, and a great agent.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

Don’t give up. And be willing to learn. I’ve done critiques at writer’s conference when the newbie writer is adamant about not wanting to change anything. They are closed to advice. This author will never be published, or if they do miraculously get published, will never be published again. Getting the reputation for being high maintenance or uncooperative can kill a career. Writing a novel is all about editing. Changing it. Making it the best it can be.

For example: I wrote “The Quest” while waiting to get a yes on my first novel, “The Invitation.” I didn’t know about length restraints and ended up having to cut 74,000 words from that book. 41% of the novel tossed! And along the way I’ve had some novels go through extensive, multiple edits. Getting rid of characters, combining characters, completely revamping plot lines… If I would have been unwilling to do this, I would have lost the respect of my editors. And probably wouldn’t have gotten another contract.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

It involved the rejection that led me to write “The Invitation” (see answer above). That agent rejected my work and said they didn’t like my writing style. If I had listened too hard, and let myself be completely swayed by one opinion, and changed the essence of my writing voice . . . I might never have gotten a novel published. There’s a fine line between listening to others’ opinions and trusting your own heart. It’s also a continual process. I am still learning. And changing.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

It is very frustrating to know that once a book is printed an author has very little control over sales. Sure, we can send out postcards, do a few booksignings (highly overrated) but the truth is, sales are what they are. And the best publicity and marketing comes from word of mouth. So if you as a reader like a book, tell everyone you know! That kind of marketing is priceless and can make a book soar. The bottom line is God’s got it.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

It’s a business. Even if your publisher is a Christian publisher, and your agent and editors and everyone you deal with is a Christian, it’s still a business. And business rules apply. They aren’t going to publish you or keep your book in print because they like you. Or because you tell them, “God led me to do this.” Not that they don’t believe God was involved, but it comes down to facts and figures. Numbers don’t lie. Numbers rule.

Was there ever a difficult set back that you went through in your writing career?

A few years ago I was trying to figure out the direction of future books. I’d been writing contemporaries for both men and women, plots with a twist a little beyond the ordinary. Then the women’s fiction of the Sister Circle books. I had plane crashes, tornadoes, time travel, and a Victorian boarding house… What next? Cozy mysteries? Psychological thrillers? I must have put together four or five proposals for new series—complete with sample chapters. I was searching for direction. Aching to know where to go next.

Then God found me and changed everything, answering in a way I never expected.

The event that opened my eyes to what to do next happened while I was standing in the home of the Mozart family in Salzburg, Austria in the summer of 2004—that little three-room apartment where both Wolfgang and his sister, Nannerl were born. In truth, I was only half-listening to the guide, being very close to tourist-information overload.

Yet one statement reached into my weary brain and ignited it: Most people don’t know this, but Mozart’s sister was just as talented as he was, but because she was a woman, she had little chance to do anything with her talent. That one statement stayed with me all the way home to the States.

At the time I was putting together a proposal for a contemporary novel (I only wrote novels set in the present day.) Because of the tour guide’s comment, I got the idea to have one of my characters write a book called “Mozart’s Sister”. My agent sent the proposal to publishers.

Within days we got a call from Dave Horton, an editor at Bethany House Publishers. “I don’t want the contemporary book, I want the book the character is writing, Mozart’s Sister, an historical book about the sister’s life.”
“But I don’t write historicals.”
“I want Mozart’s Sister.”
“But I don’t write in first-person, in one person’s point-of-view throughout an entire book. I write big-cast novels in third person.”
“I want Mozart’s Sister.”
“I hate research.”
“I want Mozart’s Sister.”

Well then. He seemed so sure, so excited. I could not ignore him—actually, I could, but I didn’t.

And so, as so often happens when God offers us an opportunity and we say “yes”, it turned out to be the best experience of my writing life. And, irony of ironies, as I sat in my office with four reference books opened before me, I even found that I enjoyed the research. Imagine that. “Mozart’s Sister” comes out in the fall of 2006. I adore writing about women of history, giving them a voice. The next novel I’m writing is about Jane Austen’s life. Jane telling her story. First person.

What are a few of your favorite books?

I like the novels of Stephanie Grace Whitson (A Garden in Paris) and James Scott Bell, to name two. And I love biographies. And Ann Rule true crime books because of the psychology of the characters. I love to figure out why people do things.

What work have you done that you’re especially proud of and why?

Completing “Mozart’s Sister” because of the research and the new frontier of first-person, historical writing.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has spoken to you lately in regards to your writing?

"But these things I plan won't happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed." Habakkuk 2: 3 (NLT)

Can you give us a look into a typical day for you?

I’m up at 4:30 or 5, take a 30 minute walk outside, look at emails, write in my diary and prayer journal, see my hubby off (our three kids are grown, and am ready to write by 8. I have a daily word quota I need to meet and I stick in my seat until I make it. Sometimes that takes four hours, sometimes two. In the afternoon I do research and family things. The point is, writing never leaves me. I get ideas in the strangest places and times. My husband complains that my mind never shuts off. Very true.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

Depends on the book. But when I get a deadline I print up a calendar, month by month, and count out how many actual writing workdays I have available until the deadline (weekdays only). I divide that number into 95,000 (the usual word count of a book). That’s often 1000-1500/day. I keep track of how many words I get done on my calendar as I go. This is essential or else I’ll procrastinate and months will go by. I’m not a good last-minute writer.

Are you an SOTP (seat of the pants) writer or a plotter?

Mostly SOTP, though I do both. I start with a very open premise (What if you could go back in time and change something? What if you were rich and famous and felt compelled to give up everything and follow Jesus? etc.) Then I cast it like it’s a movie, and start writing. As I get to know the characters plotlines evolve. And as those evolve, the story gets more and more pinned down. But the plot and the characters are always subject to change. And editing. And re-editing.

What author do you especially admire and why?

Stephen King for his characterization. Amazing.
Jane Austen for her wit.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

Favorite: Having written (old joke). Least favorite: starting a new book. Facing the blank page.

How much marketing do you do? What's your favorite part of marketing?

I have a website and send out an email newsletter. I do booksignings if asked. I sell my books when I speak. I do radio interviews when my publisher asks. But I hate marketing. Just let me write!

Do you have any parting words of advice?

If you think you’re a writer, write. And read. And learn. Just do it. Today.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Author Interview ~ Jeri Board

Jeri Fitzgerald Board grew up in Johnston County, North Carolina, just a few miles from the site of the Battle of Bentonville. She is a retired administrator with the University of North Carolina, and a former professor of African-American Studies and American Women Writers, at Duke University and St. Andrews Presbyterian College. She and her husband, Warren, live in Tryon, North Carolina with their feline companion, Miss Beautiful.

What book or project is coming out that you’d like to tell us about?

My first historical novel, The Bed She Was Born In, was released in April.
This is the story of five southern women—three black and two white—and the intimate relationships they foster which help them overcome sexism, racism, and poverty in an era (1865-1941) when women had little opportunity.

How did you conduct the research needed to write this story with accuracy?

As a professor of Women’s Studies and African American Studies, I have been conducting this kind of research, using the most reliable resources, for decades.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

Mine has been a rather unconventional journey. Although I taught creative writing for years, I never made a living as a writer. I am a retired administrator with the University of North Carolina, and a former professor, and have made my living in that arena. I wrote The Bed She Was Born In during a hiatus from my usual vocation.

This story, which began with my great-great-grandmother’s experiences during the last major battle of the Civil War at Bentonville, NC, played in my head for years. I finally had the opportunity to devote myself to it in 1992-93, so I sat at my kitchen table every day and wrote it, long-hand, on legal pads. A friend processed it for me and the manuscript was 568 pages. In the winter of 1994, my husband and I made a joint decision to go to St Andrews Presbyterian College, where we immersed ourselves 24/7 in the work of that institution.

The manuscript went on a shelf in a closet where it gathered dust for the next 7 years. During that time, I sent the first three chapters to two publishers and they responded with positive remarks about content and characterization, but both expressed concern about length. We moved to Tryon, North Carolina in 2003, and after we spent 2 ½ years renovating and remodeling our house here, I got out the manuscript, cut 250+ pages (oh, lord!), rewrote the ending, and added a prologue and an epilogue.

I was invited to read at an AAUW fund-raiser last May. Les Stobbe and his wife, Rita, were in the audience. They had just moved to Tryon from Boston, and while I had met them, we did not know each other. They wanted to buy 6 copies of my book. When I told them it had never been published, they became interested. I had no idea that Les was a literary agent. They called me that evening and we set up a meeting for the next morning where I signed a contract with him. He sold The Bed She Was Born In in less than two weeks. Needless to say, I was astounded….just blown away.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I don’t mean to sound flippant here, but I have had so little experience I don’t think I have had much opportunity to make too many mistakes on the issue of publication. I did not make an honest effort to have my novel published because I could not take the time to do right by it. One very telling incident occurred with a publisher in Georgia that let me know I did have the RIGHT product, but not the right publisher. Chemistry between the writer and the publisher is crucial and I have been very fortunate in that regard.

What’s the best advice you ever heard on writing/publication?

The best advice I have ever heard is, “Stick With It!”…both the writing and the publishing. And read, read, read. By that, I mean, really study the writing of others.
I always ask my writing students to “ape” the style of their favorite writers….to try to capture not only the semantics, but the feeling, the depth, the color, if you will…of someone they admire. I believe that no writer can ever understand, or appreciate, the process until they can analyze, to some extent, that process from another writer’s viewpoint. You have to get in there and really take it apart to appreciate it.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you ever heard?

The worst piece of writing advice I ever heard was a comment made by one of the publishers to whom I sent my manuscript. He told me there was just too much stuff in my novel about women! My reaction was BINGO! I knew I had hit it and I never backed away from what he deemed a liability.

What’s something you wish you had known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I wish I had known about how little control I would have over the treatment of information shared in interviews and other marketing devices. A writer is at the mercy of those who are interested in her/his work …and especially when it comes to the manner in which their product is presented. For instance, I have seen comments printed about The Bed She Was Born In from people who have obviously NOT read it. You just have to go with the flow and know that these things are going to happen.

Is there a set back you have gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

Since I have not had a writing career, I can’t address this. Generally, I would say that it is wise to not have too many expectations.

What are a few of your favorite books?

Rather than mentioning their books, may I just mention a few of the writers I particularly admire? Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Alice Hoffman, Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Victor Hugo, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Wm. Faulkner, Alice Walker, Amy Tan….there are so many. I wish that Harper Lee had written more than one book.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

I think The Bed She Was Born In should be read by every woman, and every man, in America. Some people will think, because of the title, that this is a “woman’s book.” It is rather a book about women who may be viewed as unconventional for their time.

The Bed She Was Born In deals with universal themes that, I hope, will have universal appeal. I have received so many wonderful comments from people who have read it and loved it…men and women, black and white, old and young. I have been particularly gratified by the positive comments I have received from young adult readers.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

My pet peeve is dealing with other people’s assumptions. I think this is something all of us human beings deal with when we deal with other human beings. It’s constant.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

When I wrote The Bed She Was Born In, I sat at my kitchen table off and on throughout the day. I began early each morning with a long walk which helped clear my head of any excess baggage I did not need for my writing journey. (I still do this every day….and I work when I walk.) If I were frustrated with a particular scene I was working on, I would leave it and take a walk around the block. And if that did not work, I would let it alone for a few days and go back to it later. Things need to meld, to season…they need time.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

If I could choose to have one strength from another writer, it would be the incredible power of certain writers to convey feelings of “being in the moment” in their work I think Toni Morrison does this so well. I feel as if I am looking over her shoulder when I read her work….as if I am the person about whom she is writing.

Do you have a dream for your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

My dream would be that the message of The Bed She Was Born In would become so wide spread that people all over this country would come to understand the positive relationships that have always existed between black and white Southerners. We have been dependent on each other for centuries, and Southern women have always nurtured the thin thread of civility that has kept us going and kept us strong. This is not to say that there have not been tremendous problems along the way. Racism, sexism, poverty, and lack of opportunity have existed, not only in the South, but all over this country throughout our history. Unfortunately, they continue to flourish today.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

I always dreamed of having a time in my life when I could actually write something, and when I finally got the opportunity, I held onto my hope that The Bed She Was Born In would be published. I wrote the original manuscript of 568 pages in two years time and NEVER thought about not finishing it. The journey to writing it had been so long that I could not do anything but hold on until the end. Besides, I loved every minute of it. Writing this novel was the hardest thing I have ever done, but it was the most fun, too.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

My favorite part of being a writer is “being” the characters. I love to get inside their heads and let them take me where they will. The thing that is hardest is the isolation. This is lonely work, as one has no colleagues in an office next door. I have to MAKE time to get out and see other people, to socialize, to try to be a normal person. This always helps me with my work because others are interested in what I am doing and they ask questions, and make comments, that give me even more insight. I come away from every presentation I do at a library, or club meeting, with new friends and new ideas.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

Now, this is a great question because I think that most first-time novelists have no idea of the amount of time and energy they will have to devote to marketing. Unless you are a John Gresham or Doris Kearns Goodwin, you will get very little help from your publisher (If you are lucky, perhaps they will sponsor one event). I spend the majority of my day dealing with correspondence (mainly emails) and scheduling events for The Bed She Was Born In. I present programs for libraries, historical societies, civic and church groups, and do readings and signings at book stores on a regular basis. People who organize these events do NOT come to you; you have to go to them. Fortunately, they are very supportive and interested in having you do something for them.

Parting words?

Talk with other writers who have been successful. Learn from them. Try to adapt to new ideas especially when it comes to marketing. Use your connections, your friends, to help you. My friends have been incredibly helpful and supportive and nothing works as well as “word of mouth” when it comes to selling.

Don’t be shy or easily intimidated. Find out what you need to know and go for it. And don’t be lulled into thinking that your book will sell itself. Writers sell books. Be prepared to spend a bundle on marketing items such as a web site, postcards, flyers, as well as gas, meals, and motels while you are on the road. Some libraries will cover mileage and/or pay an “author’s fee,” but these will not be enough to cover your expenses. Above all, have fun! This is your time to shine…and to meet interesting people who are obviously interested in you and your work. Make the most of it because in the end, all we have is each other.

For more on The Bed She Was Born In, including the synopsis, first chapter, and ordering information, please go to Thank you.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Author Interview ~ Jonathan Rogers

Jonathan Rogers grew up in Georgia, where he spent many happy hours in the swamps and riverbottoms on which the wild places of The Wilderking are based. He received his undergraduate degree from Furman University in South Carolina and holds a Ph.D. in seventeenth-century English literature from Vanderbilt University, where he taught English for five years. Rogers makes his home in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife and six children, where he makes a living as a freelance writer.

Interview by Kelly Klepfer

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

The Way of the Wilderking concludes my Wilderking Trilogy, which also includes The Bark of the Bog Owl and The Secret of the Swamp King.

The trilogy tells the story of Aidan Errolson, a shepherd boy who finds out that it is his destiny to be the Wilderking, the long-prophesied wild man who will come from the forests and swamps to set things right in the island kingdom of Corenwald. Along the way he falls in with the feechiefolk, a tribe of semi-civilized swamp people who fight too much, cry too easily, laugh at jokes they’ve heard a hundred times, and smell terrible. I like to call the Wilderking Trilogy a “fantasy-adventure story told in an American accent.”

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

Shortly after I quit my cubicle job, I wrote the first chapter of The Bark of the Bog Owl and showed it to agent John Eames, who was a friend of a friend. I told John, “My wife is pregnant with our fifth child. I’m in no position to do art for art’s sake. Does this look like the sort of thing you could sell?” John said he thought he could sell it if I could write a whole book that lived up to the promise of that chapter.

I think that meeting was late May 2002. I wrote The Bark of the Bog Owl throughout the rest of 2002… I finished it between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Starting in January of 2003, John Eames pitched it to about a dozen publishers as the first book of a trilogy. A couple of publishers made offers in the spring, and we settled on Broadman and Holman.

What made me go with Broadman and Holman was the fact that Gary Terashita, the acquisitions editor, asked if I’d be willing to beef up the story—make it longer, and make it appeal to a little bit older target group. Ever since I started writing the book, I was afraid I’d end up with a publisher who would ask me to dumb it down. Not all publishers show young readers the respect they deserve. To my mind, I was writing serious books, and I didn’t want them to go out into the world wearing footie pajamas. In retrospect, I don’t think that was as big a danger as I had supposed, but Gary’s challenge was very energizing—and it resulted in a much better series.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

I don’t often doubt whether what I’ve written is good enough. I usually succeed in writing the sort of thing I like to read; and since that’s the best way I know of judging whether a piece of writing is “good enough,” I rarely experience doubts at that level.

What I do doubt—every day—is whether or not I’m faithfully pursuing my calling. What is an appropriate use of my talents? Should I spend next three hours writing the prose I can write, or should I devote that time to self-promotion? I can rationalize either choice. If I apply my talents toward writing bank brochures (something I frequently do), does that count as pursuing my calling? After all, feeding those babies is part of my calling too.

I’ve got a couple of novels I want to write—I would even say I feel called to write them—but I don’t have any reason to believe they would help me provide for my family. What constitutes faithfulness in that situation? And what does a string of rejections mean? Is it a fiery trial for the purpose of hardening my resolve, or is it a signal that it’s time to go back to the cubicle?

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

I don’t know if this is the best advice I’ve ever heard, but at least it’s something your readers may not have heard before: if you want some serious training as a writer, get a job writing advertising copy. I know it sounds pedestrian. But every day you’re forced to try out several different voices, speak to several different audiences about several different subjects, some of which are so dull you can’t imagine saying anything interesting.

But you need to get paid, so—lo and behold—you find you’re able to come up with something after all. And deadlines…sometimes you have 2 or 3 in a single day. Obviously, being a copywriter isn’t going to teach you everything you need to know about writing. But I’ve learned things about my own capabilities that I could have never learned from a writing class or seminar. Yoking my creative tendencies to the matter-of-fact, professional approach required of a copywriter has done me a world of good.

Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block. Lawyers don’t get lawyer’s block. They get up in the morning and do their jobs. Are you a writer? Then get up in the morning and write.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

I once had a well-meaning person from a marketing department advise me to turn the character Dobro Turtlebane into a girl. Your readers who are familiar with the Wilderking books will know how funny that is. For your readers who don’t know the Wilderking books, Dobro is a smelly, rude, belligerent swamp-dweller. The Bark of the Bog Owl had no girl characters, and my friend from marketing knew that girls read a lot more than boys…and girls understandably like girl characters. I ignored the advice, of course. To base any narrative decision on marketing concerns would have utterly contradicted the earthy, swampy ethos of the Wilderking books.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I recently read something from Chip MacGregor (associate publisher at Warner Faith) that I wish I had known 3 or 4 years ago. It’s a formula for determining whether or not you’re a full-time writer: if you have 24 months of work contracted paying what you consider to be a normal salary AND you have at least 4 books paying royalties—i.e., having already earned out the advance—your writing is a real job.

Sometimes a writer gets a good advance and thinks he’s suddenly got a real job as a novelist. If I had known Chip’s formula from the start, it would have saved me a lot of heartache and struggle. A good advance does not a writing career make.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

Our “family verse” is Philippians 1:9-10: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent...” I love that phrase, “approve the things that are excellent.” Sometimes we’re called upon to disprove the things that are wrong, but on a day-to-day basis, I believe it’s more important that we approve the things that are excellent. It’s always my prayer for my family that we might demonstrate an excellent way of living. It’s the same with my writing; I hope it’s excellent, and I hope that through it I’m approving of the things that are excellent.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

I’m really the wrong person to ask. Between writing ad copy, work-for-hire devotional books, and “my” books, it seems that every day is very different. It all depends on where I am in the deadline cycle on what project. I write out of my house. With six kids in and out, that’s pretty tricky. Earplugs have changed my life.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

The central idea that keeps me writing is “divine comedy”—the idea that the vast drama of human history turns out to be a comedy, not a tragedy. Your fondest hopes only faint shadows of the truth, and your wildest dreams aren’t wild enough. Omnipotence turns out to be the same thing as infinite love. It’s my hope to devote a whole writing career to that astonishing truth—through essays, literary criticism, children’s fiction, grown-up fiction, and maybe a few other genres.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

Sometimes I hear from a person I haven’t seen or talked to in ten or fifteen years, and they say, “When I read your book, I knew it was you. I could hear your voice in it.” I love knowing that when I’m dead and gone, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren can read my books and hear me talking about the things that are most important to me. They can read The World According to Narnia and have a pretty good idea of my theology. They can read the Wilderking books and have a pretty good idea of what I think is funny or interesting.

My least favorite part, I suppose, is the sneaking suspicion that I’m being self-indulgent. My family has to make lots of sacrifices for me to be a full-time writer—from financial insecurity to having to put up with my meanness when deadlines come around.

What particular part of King David’s story inspired you the most?

The David story is so rich, first to last. Eugene Peterson’s book, Leap Over a Wall does an incredible job of teasing out the narrative possibilities in the life of David. But there were two aspects of the story that really jumped out at me. The first is the gap between the Now and the Not Yet. Many long years pass between the day David learns he’s going to be king and the day he actually becomes king. A whole lot happens in that gap. Over and over again David is called to act decisively, confidently. And yet, wouldn’t there always have been the slightest doubt? Did the prophet get it right? Am I really destined to be king? And if I am destined to be king, what are we waiting for? What does loyalty look like in such a situation?

But over against that doubt, we have the certainty of a boy who hasn’t yet learned how to be a hypocrite. It was the grown-ups who taught David that the Living God would deliver them from the Philistines. But when David showed up at the battlefield, it was the grown-ups who were paralyzed with fear. It took a certain naïveté not to be intimidated by Goliath.

There is the ongoing debate in Christian fiction on the overtness of the gospel in novels. You’ve used allegory and hints, but no outright salvation plan on the back page. What are you hoping to accomplish through your stories?

A lot of times when people use the phrase “the gospel” they’re talking about evangelism. Of course that’s an extremely important part of the gospel, but it’s not the whole gospel. Once you’re converted, you’ve still got the rest of your life stretching out before you. And the fact of God’s grace in your life ought to impact every decision you make. It ought to shape every interaction. It ought to define your attitude toward work and family and community. That’s the gospel too. It’s true that there are no conversions in the Wilderking (actually, there’s an implied conversion in Book 3)—but I hope the gospel is pretty overt.

A PhD in 17th century literature is intimidating. How did your educational background prepare you for the Wilderking books?

I read a mountain of books in graduate school, and that definitely influenced my writing. But in many ways the novelistic impulse is the opposite of the academic impulse. Modern-day academics is typically about narrowing into ever more tightly defined areas of expertise. Good fiction, I believe, requires broadening, opening up to the world. Sometimes I think the best thing graduate school did for me was to make me appreciate the freedom and breadth of the non-academic life.

I love reading what I feel like reading and writing what I feel like writing. I don’t take that for granted any more. I’ve always loved seventeenth-century literature, but I enjoy it a lot more now that I don’t have to read it unless I want to.

Parenting – did it prepare you for the trilogy?

My kids are always reminding me what it was like to be a kid. That’s a big help when you’re writing children’s fiction. But the main way parenting prepared me to write the Wilderking was simply that it gave me an audience to write to. I love having somebody specific to write to. I know what my boys like…and I know there’s a good chance other kids will like the same thing. Also, once I got well into the Bark of the Bog Owl, the boys were demanding more chapters. Not knowing if the book would ever find a publisher, it was good to have somebody who was demanding that I finish the thing. They held me accountable—pretty loudly at times. The elder of my two daughters is starting to read now, so I’ll soon have an audience for a more girl-centric book.

You obviously believe children are intelligent and creative beings – do you prefer to write for children/teens or adults? Why?

C.S. Lewis remarked that any children’s book that’s not worth reading as an adult isn’t worth reading as a child either. I agree whole-heartedly. When I wrote the Wilderking, I was writing what I thought was funny and interesting, not what I thought kids would find funny and interesting. I do the same thing when writing for adults. I write what I find interesting on the assumption that somebody else will find it interesting too.

What was the turning point for making the decision to pursue full-time writing?

After I got out of academics I took a job at a technology company for four or five years. It was a great place to work in most ways, but as the years went by the total disconnect between my talents and abilities on the one hand and my work on the other was just taking it out of me. It was extremely draining to spend 45-50 hours a week doing work that I had no particular talent for, while the talents I did have sat idle. I felt like I was becoming another person—or, more to the point, I felt like I was becoming nobody in particular.

I reached a turning point in January of 2002. In one week, my boss gave me a terrible review at work, and my mother was diagnosed with lymphoma—a development that put my work troubles in perspective and also gave me occasion for much soul-searching. I decided life was too short to live the way I had been living. Friday of that week I drove straight from the hospital in Atlanta to my office in Nashville for the face-to-face portion of my annual review, where I resigned my position.

One way or another I was going to make a living as a writer. I figured that would mean writing mostly advertising copy and technical manuals, but I hoped I could figure out a way to include some books in the mix.

The last of my vacation days I spent in Orlando with my best friends from college. It did me a world of good to sort things out with people who still thought of me as the person I had been ten years earlier. And just being in swampy Florida seemed to stir up some creativity that had lain dormant. After a canoe trip down an alligator-infested river, I went to a bagel shop and outlined the story that became The Wilderking Trilogy.

What’s next?

At the moment I’m in the middle of a few work-for-hire projects, but I don’t currently have a contract for a “book of my own.” I’ve embarked on a grown-up novel that I’m very excited about, but I don’t know when that’s going to be ready for prime time. I’d also love to extend the Wilderking series one of these days. We’ll just have to see what happens.

To read Kelly's review of The Wilderking Trilogy Click here.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Your Press Kit

In the last two posts, we talked about what your publicist does and how to write a press release--a big thank you to Rebeca Seitz for filling in while I was in California. Now let's review and look at the other items needed for your press kit.

1.) Your Press Release- Stand out and be very precise. Generally, at the beginning of a campaign, I create one press release that is versatile for both news and entertainment purposes. That way in a pinch, I have something I can send out, regardless of the outlet. Book signings, launches, and events, require a press release pertinent just to that event.

2.) Your Photo—Want your publicist to love you? Come prepared with a good photograph. Unless we happen to live in your neighbourhood, this is one thing we cannot do for you. Have a clean, digital image. Hint—Bigger photos work better because they allow us to proportion the image to the project we're working on. Sometimes I want to use both a book cover and the author's photo on the press release. However, if they are not the same size, the press release can lose its visual appeal—becoming lopsided. An image can be shrunk without marring it, but not expanded.

Why is your photo so important? If a major television show is interested in having you on as a guest, they'll want to know what you look like. If a magazine has an article featuring you, they'll want a picture. We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture. Let face it, a good-looking picture will help. Think like the media. If you were Oprah, what sort of guest would you want on your show? Make your photo reflect that.

3.) Q&A with the Author—Imagine being on air and unable to answer the question just asked you. Now take that thought and twist it a bit. Imagine being a radio host, who doesn't know anything about the author and probably hasn't had time to read the book. (Trust me, they worry about this.)

Now imagine yourself in the shoes of a producer thumbing through a press kit. You'd want proof that if you give someone airtime, they're going to deliver something entertaining. Use this part to bring in the back-story of your novel, interesting facts about you, and other subjects you can be interviewed on. Hint: This page is a good place for your photo. It's inviting to see the person you're reading about.

4.) Endorsements—Don't under estimate the power. If Stephen King says this is the best book he's ever read… wouldn't you be slightly intimidated to give it a bad review, even if you were a New York Times reviewer? After all, why do agents and editors jump when another agent or editor becomes interested in you? The power of suggestion goes a long way. Here's where you can gain credibility. Hint: Stephen King does actually have to say it was the best book he's ever read to use that one.

5.) Previous Hits Page—This falls in line with your endorsement page. If Publishers Weekly says you’re the must read author of 2007, then as a reviewer, I'm going to take you a little bit more seriously. Hint: Check with the source and learn their requirements. For example: the above publication does not allow for authors to just present a portion of their review.

6.) Movie Trailer – More to come on this subject

7.) Business Card

8.) The Folder- This is the first impression. Publishers and P.R. Firms pay good money for folders that match the campaign. Talk to Office Max, look online. It's worth some of your advance money to have your book noticed.

A good attitude to take from the get go is that they are doing you the favor. Yes, they need to feed their audience. Yes, they are benefiting too. But at any given time, their desk is filled with hundreds and thousands of similar requests. It is easier for them to move onto the next candidate instead of doing your work for you.

If someone asks for your photo, it is very unprofessional to tell them to 'grab' it off your website, or if someone asks for a bio, don't expect them to type it from the back of your novel. The more ready you are, the more likely you are to become featured.

Upcoming: Where these kits are going.

Pimp My Soul

Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.~ Goethe

Frank Peretti said in a recent interview that readers can tell the journey he’s been on by the books he’s written. Like Frank, when I started writing I had no clue how much of my own personality, hopes, failures, and more than anything, struggles, would reveal themselves in my fiction.

I began my first novel, Saving Eden, in 2002. It’s the story of a woman desperate for the attention of her workaholic husband. After much neglect, she finally has had all she can take. She leaves him and gets sucked into a Wicca coven … and many temptations.

I’ve never been drawn into a Wicca coven, thankfully, but my own frustration with my husband during that time, revealed itself in my book before I even knew on a conscious level that he and I had issues needing to be worked on.

My second novel, Demon Chaser, is about a young woman who embraces her unusual calling to be a female exorcist despite the fact everyone around her thinks it’s insane. So be it, she decides, should she fear God or man?

I only realized after the thing was written, and I moved on to something new, that I was working out my call to be a novelist and the reaction of some to this “pipe dream”.

Now, I’m writing Nailed Open, a thriller about a young psychiatrist who infiltrates a cult to solve a murder. I’m clearly working out some issue, but I won’t know exactly what that is until the book is complete and I’ve gained some clarity enhancing distance.

When I read novels by other authors, what they are dealing with in their personal lives is sometimes painfully clear. Best-selling author and editor, Karen Ball, wrote The Breaking Point based in part on her own marital struggles. She wrote this in her acknowledgments of that book:

“A wise friend and gifted writer, Robin Jones Gunn, once said that when we write the books that stem from our truest passion, we find ourselves ‘floating on a sea of reluctant transparency.’ That’s certainly true of this book.”

I believe, really good fiction happens when we get emotionally naked—make ourselves known on a level our parents, spouses, children, best-friends…even ourselves… have not experienced. Sometimes when we delve into our souls, the blackness we find there can be disturbing. Sometimes our shovel clinks against the lid of an unopened treasure chest— but as novelists, it is our job to break that ground, come what may.

The unnerving part comes when we pluck what we find from the earth, hold it up and ask: “Look what I’ve found …anybody want it?”

It is a terrifying thing, for authors to pour so much of who we are into a book and then let others read it, critique it…and worse, have to pitch it to editors.

We writers love to write, but detest trying to sell our writing. Why is that? Well, I think there’s something just a little dirty feeling about bleeding our proverbial vein onto the page and then begging editors to buy our red-soaked manuscript, and later, readers to buy our books.

It’s uncomfortable to sell what can feel sacred to us, but we write to be read, and the only way that’s going to happen is by selling our work.

We must shave our legs (write a great story), grease our lips with red (allow our work to be critiqued and polished), and then when we (our manuscripts) are looking as hot as can be, we should strut along main street (attend writers conferences), and hope we’ll catch an editor’s eye.

So, stick a giant purple feather in your velvet hat and submit that manuscript. Before you know it, a Cadillac will pull up to your corner. You’ll lean into the window and hear what every writer dreams of: “Get in.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Show Time!

Does Grandma, who lives three states away, want to hear about the baby or does she want to see photographs? Mommy threatens, but her little tyke keeps dumping the potted plants until she whips out the wooden spoon. Classmates yawn until the kid up front shoves his report on reptiles into one pocket and pulls a gecko from another. The suitor confesses his undying love, but it’s the dozen roses that cause his soul mate to sit up and take notice.

Show, don’t tell. Simple.

Except for the fact that we writers can’t literally show. As creators of illustration-free novels, we deal only in the written word. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but we’re stuck with those thousand words – as yet unwritten – and a picture dancing the two-step across our imagination where absolutely no one is ever going to see it.

Showing is that elusive hook that draws a reader into our story. It’s what keeps her turning the pages. And that, of course, is why we write in the first place: so that someone will turn the pages.

My attack on showing more and telling less is five-pronged. The process takes work. It often takes about seventy-six rewrites…

1. POINT OF VIEW – A strong point of view eliminates unnecessary telling. I’m less apt to write “Jill walked across the room” if I am watching her walk through the eyes of Jack. I know the guy adores Jill. This is a significant aspect of the story. So I get inside his head. I hear his thoughts and I feel his emotions. He tells me what he sees and in so doing he SHOWS.

And then I write: “Jill undulated toward him with the languid elegance of a giraffe.”

The secret to effective use of POV is to see through one – and only one – character’s perspective at a time, i.e. one character per scene. In the above example, I know what Jack is thinking. I don’t know what Jill is thinking unless she speaks to Jack or if she kisses him or slaps him.

In this single point-of-view approach, a writer is best able to capture EMOTION, and it is emotion that captures the reader. Without being told specifics, we learn at least three things from the way Jack sees Jill: A) Jill is graceful and has long legs; B) Jack has a bit of the poet in him; C.) Jack has the hots for Jill. We are shown not only how she moves, but we are shown his state of mind.

The best advice I ever heard about voice was from T. Davis Bunn. He said it’s best not to begin writing the story until we “hear” the character’s voice. In my own experience, this hearing is sometimes a gift. Whoosh. The voice is there inside of me. At other times, I write copious notes about a character’s life before her voice eventually emerges.

2. ACTION – Actions speak louder than words. My husband cleaning up the kitchen – all by himself – shouts without a spoken word that he loves me. God’s Word speaks volumes of His love for me, but His expression of it in Oregon’s flowering wild rhododendrons is what takes my breath away.
There is power in words that show a character doing something.

3. DETAILS – If real life is in the details, then in fake life – aka fiction – those details must be big, bigger than life. This is accomplished by using strong NOUNS and VERBS, less adjectives and even less adverbs.

When details are written effectively, characters jump off the page. And when that happens, the story grabs not so much a reader’s mental processes as her heart. Ahh…this is where we want her.

4. NIX NARRATION – When an entire scene simply tells what something looks like, it doesn’t move the plot along. It needs to be – ouch – cut. Yes, this hurts. It’s undoubtedly exquisite writing, but it doesn’t show. I recently wrote a lovely chapter. It described a room. Who else is going to care about this information?

5. OBSERVATION – We writers are blessed – or is it cursed? – with what has been called “split vision.” All of life is so rich with story MATERIAL. It’s almost impossible to engage in conversation or eavesdropping without grabbing a pen and jotting notes on the nearest surface, be it palm, linen tablecloth, or toilet paper.

Likewise, reading fiction is an opportunity to engage the split vision. I can escape into a book and at the same time study the art of writing. When a story beguiles me, I enjoy it with a part of me while another part is observing how the author creates the magic.
Showing is the stuff of observing, of being aware of the world around us.

A word of caution in closing: We don’t want to drift into overkill when it comes to showing. We are after all STORYTELLERS. Sometimes we simply must say “Susan sat on the sofa.”
On second thought, I’ve got too many S’s going there…but that’s another topic...

Happy writing.

Sally John grew up in Moline, Illinois, and married her high school honey Tim 32 years ago. They now live in southern California. A former teacher, she writes inspirational contemporary women's fiction. She has two grown children, a daughter in Chicago and a son who lives in Oregon with his wife and two daughters.

Sally's book The Beach House can be purchased through Amazon. Click here.

Her newest novel, Castles in the Sand will be out soon. You can read the review at:

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Author Interview ~ T.L. (Tracy) Higley

Tracy Higley started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. After attending Philadelphia Biblical University, she earned a B.A. in English Literature at Rowan University. Tracy spent ten years writing over fifty drama presentations for church ministry. Over 10,000 people have attended drama productions she has written.
A lifelong interest in history and mythology has led Tracy to extensive research into ancient myth systems, and shaped her desire to shine the light of the gospel into the cultures of the past. She is the author of three books: Retrovirus, Marduk’s Tablet and Fallen from Babel. Tracy lives with her husband and four children in Pennsylvania.

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

My latest title, Fallen from Babel, is a time-travel tale and was such fun to write. If I could choose an out-of-this world ability, it would be the power to time travel. Fallen from Babel is as close as I’ve managed to come! The main character is a professor at a university who thinks he has religion figured out, until he ends up in ancient Babylon, in the center of a circle of magicians and sorcerers, and everything he’s believed gets turned upside down.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

Once I decided to make an effort at publication, I turned out a completed manuscript in only a few months. I didn’t have that annoying awareness of my lack of knowledge to slow me down! While I started circulating that manuscript, I began the next. That first manuscript is in hiding on my hard drive now. About a year after I started writing earnestly, I went to my first writers’ conference. That proved to be the best thing for me, as I connected with published writers who gave great feedback and advice. It took about 2 and ½ years from the time I started writing until I was offered a contract. Those years were spent writing, finding an agent, and learning all I possibly could about the craft. When I got that first contract, I was truly shocked that someone wanted to take a chance on me. I still feel that way!

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Oh, yes! I’d like to meet the person who doesn’t! Well, maybe I wouldn’t.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

Waiting for things to happen, not working while I wait. I’ve learned that this business takes TIME – time for proposals to circulate, for editors to read manuscripts, for committees to meet and make decisions. Don’t wait for the phone call – get busy writing the next thing, immediately!

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Go to writers’ conferences. I resisted this advice at first, because I thought a conference would be all about schmoozing editors, and the prospect made my skin crawl. But conferences are much more about learning, connecting with other writers, getting support. I can still remember sitting around a meal at the first conference I attended, when the topic of conversation shifted to a grammatically annoying billboard we’d all seen. I remember thinking, “I’m home! These people understand me!” There are few places on earth where you can truly feel that.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

I was still in college the first time I tried to write a novel. After it was finished, I wrote a sort of “fan” letter to an author I admired, asking for some advice. She offered to read the novel I’d written. I sent it off, full of hope. She read it and promptly sent it back, basically telling me not to bother trying again. I was devastated. It took me ten more YEARS to figure out that my passion to write fiction was part of who God made me, and what I needed was to learn my craft and to practice. I wish she would have helped me see that, instead of shutting me down. The experience taught me to be so careful with less experienced writers whose work I read. If the drive to write is truly in you, soak up every bit of constructive criticism you can get, but let the destructive stuff roll right off you!

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I think it’s that waiting thing again. The wheels of publishing grind slowly. Don’t let that fact slow you down – use it to your advantage to learn and improve while you wait.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

I’ve been spending some time in John 15 lately, really trying to understand what it means to abide in Christ, to be the branch to his vine. I love the way Jesus pictures this for us, the bearing of fruit in such a natural and unforced way as we abide in him. If my writing is my “fruit,” I believe it’s crucial that I understand the way it needs to be a product of my relationship with Jesus.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

I am in love with every book written by Stephen Lawhead. The first time I picked up one of his books I felt as though I had fallen through a portal into another, brighter world. His books are a measuring stick for me as I write, always trying to give readers that same experience of being wholly transported.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

I still have little ones at home, so when I want to get writing done it needs to be outside the house. My husband and I run a business from our home, and he is so supportive in allowing me a few mornings each week to escape with my laptop to a local coffee shop. I am waiting for someone there to start asking me to pay rent!
Since I’m usually writing about historical subjects, I spend lots of time in the research phase. I’m also a heavy plotter, so the beginning of a project is usually slow but steady. I don’t set goals for words written unless I’m worried about a deadline.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

I’m fascinated by this unusual time we find ourselves in, teetering between modernism and post-modernism. I think C.S. Lewis had a real grasp of where culture was heading. He had an ability to use rationality and logic to persuade people’s minds of the truth, but also to use beauty and mystery to capture the imagination and make us long for Truth. I would love to be able to accomplish both of these aims in my own writing.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

I would love to write novels set completely in ancient history. There aren’t enough in the Christian market, in my opinion. But God’s handprints are all over history, and we shouldn’t be afraid to pursue ancient cultures, to see what they can teach us about God’s truth.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

Uhh… last week? Yes, definitely. Between every book contract. But only because the works is grueling and full of rejection. Get past that, and you’re fine! Seriously, I’m sure any creative pursuit is always hard, no matter how much success you achieve. But if it’s what you’re made for, it’s also where you find fulfillment.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

Favorite: Research. I love to learn, to dive headlong into books and come up gulping for air, with my fists full of new facts.

Least favorite: Rejection. Have I mentioned that already? I’m working on separating myself a bit from my work, so that if my work is not appreciated it doesn’t send me into a cave of self-pity.

Parting words?

I read something from another favorite writer recently, Frederick Buechner. He said, "The place that God calls us is that place where the world's deep hunger and our deep desire meet."
Find this place, and the rest will take care of itself.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Here There Be Dragons

By Mike Duran

A passenger jet, while flying cross-country, encountered an electrical storm. The meteorological phenomenon completely disabled the plane’s navigational equipment. In an attempt to calm the passengers, the captain took to the intercom. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said. “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is we have no idea where we’re going. The good news is that with this tailwind, we’re making great time.”

I was well into my forties when I finally complied with the call to write. The bad news is I have no idea where I’m going. The good news: I’m making great time.

Writers traffic in the world of intangibles. Half-hewn heroes and ideas in embryo inhabit the novelist’s noggin. Yet a strong tailwind is no guarantee that we’ll hit the mark. And to compound matters, every so often, God zaps our compass.

Saul was breezing toward infamy until God knocked him off his horse and blinded him. Years later, the recovering Pharisee – now the apostle Paul – would write, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7). It’s as much a statement about writing as living. We can chart a course and plot its unfolding, but any number of unexpected phenomenon could overtake us. Oh yeah, the Lord will set us on the runway and point us in the general direction. Sometimes He’ll even provide a storm or two. The problem is He’s not obligated to tell us where we’re going. Just ask Father Abraham.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place he would afterward receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8 NKJV)

Did you get that? Abraham, father of the Jewish people, fountainhead of the Christian faith, "went out, not knowing where he was going." He pulled up stakes, loaded the caravan and rolled the dice; he walked by faith and not by sight, disregarded the navigational equipment and listened instead to a still, small voice.

This “inner ear” is a good thing for aspiring authors to develop. Medieval artists were fond of depicting the Virgin Mary’s impregnation by the Holy Spirit as occurring through her ear, not her sexual organ. She received and conceived.

The same is true today: God enters us through the ear.

It’s no wonder conversion events are often described as “callings.” Fate or Providence beckons and our internal GPS goes bonkers. Suddenly our journey brings us to a crossroad, a place where even Mapquest becomes strangely irrelevant. Some great, ethereal bird is finally on our radar, and we’re bound and determined to bag it. We’ve been called, chosen; impregnated by a Grand Something and we’ve no choice but to bare the offspring.

Likewise, the “call to write” is a mysterious thing. It comes to each of us differently, but always through the ear. I still remember the day I announced to my family that I was going to begin writing. They looked at each other and shrugged. The unspoken message was, "Just keep the lawns mowed, get to work on time, and don't get weird on us." I've managed the first two.

Abraham must have felt like this – quizzical looks, second-guessing and lots of unanswered questions. I heaved my backpack over my shoulder, stood at the crossroads, raised a damp finger to the breeze…and listened for that still, small voice.

That’s when I heard the first roar.

Ancient mapmakers, when reaching the end of the known world, often drew a monster – a griffin, hydra or dragon -- to delineate the boundaries of the unexplored. “Venture this far,” they'd say, “and ye may encounter beasts. Here there be dragons.”

In the same way, my writing pursuits have been one long exploration of the unknown. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been an exciting ride. But for the most part, I’ve been flying blind. I started writing evangelistic tracts, brochures and workbooks. Next, it was skits and a stage play. For a while, I wrote "Letters to the Editor," finally reaching the pinnacle when a rant of mine was printed in the L.A. Times. I was so happy I framed the piece and hung it next to my desk. After this, I dabbled with theological essays, then some fluffy, inspirational pieces. Then it was fiction -- first short, then long. Inevitably, I settled on the fiction thing, but not without wrestling a dragon or two. At this point, I still don’t know where I’m headed…but I’m making great time.

So you’ve heard, and heeded, a similar call. Then let me ask you: Do you know where you’re going? Yes, I know where you’d like to be: On the balcony of a vacation home, overlooking dunes and breakers, laptop at your elbow, pondering your next bestseller. The truth is the call to write may take us places we would have never chosen – places of frustration, disappointment, rejection and loneliness. There will be stops and goes, successes and failures, and always changes of direction. Heck, some of us may never see the completion of our “masterpiece.” We will reach the final chapters only to hear the Master say, “Come up hither.”

In this sense, the writing journey is a microcosm of life. We may set goals and nurture dreams, but where we end up is anyone’s guess. Novel Journey frequently asks authors about their “path to publication.” The question itself is a reflection of this uncomfortable reality and, as expected, the answers are wildly diverse. The one abiding theme, however, is that there are few insta-authors. Publication is definitely a “journey” and the path un-patented.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place he would afterward receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” My guess is that his journey is like many of ours. We are called to leave the familiar, the comfort zones of our making, and venture into the unknown, where electrical storms crackle and our compass spins wildly, where the path disappears and a tattered sign announces: Here there be dragons.

Take heart! The pillar of fire may change course, but it will never fizzle. God may disable your navigational equipment but He will never abandon you. Despite the beastly roars, keep an ear to heaven. For though the trail corkscrews and rises into fog, like Abraham, you are never . without a Companion

Mike Duran is a writer who lives in Southern California with his wife Lisa. Mike was one of 10 authors picked for Infuze Magazine’s Best of 2005 print anthology and a finalist in the 2005 Faith in Fiction short story contest. His recent short stories have appeared in Forgotten Worlds, Infuze, Alienskin, Dragons, Knights and Angels, and non-fiction in The Matthew’s House Project and Relevant Magazine. Mike is currently seeking agenting for his first novel, What Faith Awakes. Otherwise, he inhabits obscure bookstores and rules the realm of Decompose.